Nellie Fox

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Nellie Fox
Nellie Fox 1960.jpeg
Second baseman
Born: (1927-12-25)December 25, 1927
St. Thomas Township, Pennsylvania
Died: December 1, 1975(1975-12-01) (aged 47)
Baltimore, Maryland
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
June 8, 1947 for the Philadelphia Athletics
Last MLB appearance
July 24, 1965 for the Houston Astros
Career statistics
Batting average .288
Hits 2,663
Home runs 35
Runs batted in 790
Teams
Career highlights and awards
Induction 1997
Vote Veterans Committee

Jacob Nelson "Nellie" Fox (December 25, 1927 – December 1, 1975) was an American professional baseball player. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a second baseman on the Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros from 1947 through 1965. He was the American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1959 and was an AL All-Star for 12 seasons (15 games).

Fox retired after the 1965 season. He hit for a .288 career batting average, 2663 hits, 35 home runs and 790 runs batted in. After his playing career was over, Fox coached the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. He died in 1975, two years after being diagnosed with cancer. Fox was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.[1]

Early life[edit]

Fox was born in St. Thomas Township, Pennsylvania, a rural area in the south central portion of Pennsylvania. Despite his short stature, he distinguished himself as a baseball player at a young age. By 1944, a 16-year-old Fox thought that he had a good chance to sign on with a professional baseball team due to player shortages from World War II. He was able to attend a tryout for the Philadelphia Athletics in Frederick, Maryland, where he caught the attention of Athletics manager and owner Connie Mack, who signed him to a professional contract.[2]

Starting his professional career with the Lancaster team of the Pennsylvania Interstate League, Fox played a range of infield and outfield positions. Ultimately he settled at second base. He came back with Lancaster in 1946 and was known as the best second baseman in the league. The Athletics bought his contract that year, but Fox did not get to play for them because he was called to service in Korea.[2]

Playing career[edit]

Early MLB career[edit]

Fox in 1953

Fox began his career with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1947, but he played mostly in the minor leagues that year and the next, appearing in a total of ten MLB games over those two seasons.[3] Fox was a member of the 1949 Philadelphia Athletics team that set a major league team record of 217 double plays, a record which still stood as of 2012.[4] He appeared in 88 games that season and contributed to 68 of the team's double plays.[3]

Traded to the White Sox October 29, 1949 for Joe Tipton, Fox's career took off. He spent 14 seasons with Chicago, making 10 All-Star teams. The White Sox finished in third place in each season between 1952 and 1956, followed by second-place finishes in 1957 and 1958. Baseball-Reference.com lists Billy Pierce and Minnie Minoso as the top White Sox players during most of those years, as reflected by wins above replacement (WAR), but Fox had the team's highest WAR in 1957.[5]

1959 season[edit]

Fox's best season came in 1959, when the White Sox won their first pennant in 40 years. He batted .306, had an on-base percentage of .380 and won his second Gold Glove. The Al Lopez-managed White Sox had the best record in baseball, going 94-60 to finish five games ahead of the Cleveland Indians and a surprising 15 ahead of the New York Yankees. It was one of just two seasons the Yankees did not win the pennant between 1949-1964.

In the World Series, Fox batted a team-high .375 with three doubles, but the Sox lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. In Game 5 Fox scored the only run when Sherm Lollar hit into a double play in the fourth inning. (This was only the second time that a World Series game did not have an RBI.) It was Fox's only postseason experience, and the White Sox did not make it back to the World Series until they swept the 2005 World Series from the Houston Astros.

Later career[edit]

Fox played his final two seasons (1964–65) with the Houston Colt .45s and Astros. Joe Morgan later said that he looked up to Fox's example as a rookie with the Astros; Fox and Morgan were both diminutive second basemen. Morgan grew up hitting with a Nellie Fox model bat, which had a large barrel and large handle. With the Astros, Fox convinced Morgan to switch to a bat with a thin handle to leverage his power.[6]

Only 5-foot-9, he made up for his modest size and minimal power — he hit only 35 home runs in his career, and never more than six in a single season — with his good batting eye, excellent fielding, and baserunning speed. Fox was perennially one of the toughest batters to strike out, fanning just 216 times in his career, an average of once every 42.7 at-bats which ranks him 3rd all-time. He led the league in most at-bats per strikeouts a phenomenal 13 times in his career. A solid contact hitter (lifetime .288 batting average), he batted over .300 six times, with 2,663 hits, 355 doubles, and 112 triples. He also led the league in singles for seven straight years, in triples once, and in hits four times.[3]

Defensive skills[edit]

With the White Sox, Fox played next to a pair of slick-fielding Venezuelan shortstops, Chico Carrasquel (1950–55) and Luis Aparicio (1956–62). Fox won Gold Gloves in 1957, 1959 and 1960. He was baseball's first Gold Glove winner at second base. Between August 1956 and September 1960, Fox played a major league record 798 consecutive games at second base. In 1959 and 1960, the Aparicio-Fox middle infield duo each won the Gold Glove Award for their respective position, starting a select list of eight shortstop-second baseman combinations who have won the honor in the same season.

Fox led the league's second basemen in defensive games played each season between 1952 and 1959. He led second basemen in putouts between 1952 and 1961, and he led his position in assists several times during his career. Fox finished among the top five second basemen in fielding percentage every year between 1950 and 1964. As of the end of the 2014 season, Fox ranks second in career double plays as a second baseman.[3]

Later life[edit]

After his playing career, Fox was a coach for the Astros (1965–67) and the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers (1968–72). In the late 1960s, Fox appeared to have a chance to manage the Senators when Jim Lemon's post came open following the team's purchase by Bob Short. However, around the same time the Washington Redskins named Vince Lombardi as their football coach, so Short felt pressure to hire a manager with a very well-known name. He selected Ted Williams for the position.[7]

After retiring from baseball, Fox lived in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and ran Nellie Fox Bowl. Fox died of skin cancer in Baltimore, Maryland on December 1, 1975. The cancer had been diagnosed in 1973.[2] He had entered University Hospital in mid-October 1975 and the cancer was said to be widespread.[8]

Legacy[edit]

SoxRetired02.PNG
Nellie Fox's number 2 was retired by the Chicago White Sox in 1976.

After Fox's death, Jim Lemon said that the cancer "had to be incurable - because if it wasn't, Nellie would have beat it."[8] Former White Sox manager Al Lopez described how Fox had found success through hard work rather than natural ability: "He wasn't fast and didn't have an arm, but he worked hard to develop what he needed to make himself a good all-around ballplayer. If you had eight Nellie Foxes, all with his spirit and determination, I think you'd have a winning team."[8] On May 1, 1976, his uniform number 2 was retired by the White Sox.

He was not selected to the Hall of Fame in his initial period of eligibility. In his final ballot cast by baseball writers (1985), he gained 74.7 percent of the vote, just shy of the 75 percent required for election by the Baseball Writers Association of America. However, in 1997, the Veterans Committee elected him. He had the required 75% of the committee's vote the year before, but the committee could only vote in one former MLB player and Jim Bunning received a higher percentage of votes that year.[9] Prior to his Hall of Fame election, a group of fans formed the Nellie Fox Society to promote his case for induction. The group grew to as many as 600 members, including Richard M. Daley, James R. Thompson, George Will and several former MLB players.[10]

In 2001, a Pennsylvania state historical marker was dedicated to honor Fox.[11] Bronze statues of Fox and Aparicio were unveiled on the outfield concourse of U.S. Cellular Field in 2006. Fox's statue depicts him flipping a baseball toward Aparicio, while Aparicio is depicted as preparing to receive the ball from Fox.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Nellie Fox at The Baseball Hall of Fame". baseballhall.org. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c McLanahan, Bruce. "Fox, Jacob Nelson (Nellie)". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Nellie Fox Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved November 21, 2014. 
  4. ^ "A Record with Legs: Most Double Plays Turned in a Season". philadelphiaathletics.org. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  5. ^ "Chicago White Sox Team History & Encyclopedia". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved November 21, 2014. 
  6. ^ Anderson, Dave (December 7, 1975). "Nellie Fox: He made it easier for Joe Morgan". Star-News. Retrieved November 21, 2014. 
  7. ^ Richman, Milt (December 3, 1975). "Nellie: Not everybody could be just like him". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved November 21, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c "Nellie Fox dies from skin cancer". The Gadsden Times. December 2, 1975. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  9. ^ Parasiliti, Bob (March 5, 1997). "Nellie Fox voted into Hall of Fame". The Herald-Mail. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  10. ^ Mandernach, Mark (December 9, 1996). "Cooperstown or Bust". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Jacob Nelson Historical Marker". ExplorePAHistory.com. Retrieved July 20, 2014. 

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